Lack of joy is in the absence of grace, and often I think this is due to legalism. What a dirty word. I hate, hate, hate it. Legalists really push my buttons. Probably because I used to be one. In a very recent conversation with a dear friend, I realized how I’d been watched earlier in my Christian walk. Further reflection caused me to grieve for my legalistic ways and how they have contributed to my dear sister’s hurt and confusion. I used to hurt the same way. I didn’t even know I was perpetuating this common malady of the American Christian church…
Most of us raised in the church, or saved for a very long time, especially in our Western Christian culture, can identify with legalism’s nasty grip and lasting effect. We have to DO things right and make sure others do, too! We can’t miss church, or quiet time; we must ‘say grace’ before a group meal, and never say ‘no’ to whatever is asked of us… Pretty soon we forget why we even started down this path; We become frustrated and angry and burned out; and we don’t even know why. We lost our joy because our joy stopped originating from the Giver of Himself; It gradually shifted to us — us trying to be what we think He wants us to be. Or maybe what we think the Pastor or Pastor’s wife, or some other brother or sister wants us to be.
A life of liberty comes from knowing God, from seeing and savoring Jesus Christ. Not for what He does for us, but simply (or maybe not so simply) Who He Is. We are here to make much of God; to glorify Him alone. Sure, we go to church because we are more effective in this together. Sure, we pray and read God’s word because we hunger and thirst for Him like water in a dry desert, not because we feel obligated to put in our 20 minutes of quiet time… When the perspective changes to God Himself being our very food, water and breath, legalism creeps quietly and rightfully out the back door.
The liar of liars wants us to carry around guilt for not doing. Or not doing things right. The Giver of Himself wants us to know and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we do that the liar is shamed and hushed, and we are joyful and victorious.
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” ~Ephesians 3:14-19